Special collections

Read about the Library's rare books and manuscripts

The College Library's special collections consist of approximately 10,000 volumes, and include manuscripts, early printed books, and the libraries of some of our most distinguished alumni.

Work on the creation of electronic catalogue records for our rare books is ongoing. Information about these books is available from the library office, where access can be provided to a complete card catalogues, and various handlists. Highlights include:

  • Western medieval manuscripts, many of which were described by M.R. James in his Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the library of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, published in 1925.
  • Almost 800 15th and 16th century printed books, the earliest of which are listed in J.B. Bilderbeck's Early Printed Books in the Library of St Catharine's College Cambridge, published in 1911.
  • A collection of books by, or about, Charles Darwin, given by Sydney Smith (Fellow, 1939-1988).
  • A collection of bibles, grammars, dictionaries, and some works of literature collected by Thomas Jarrett (1805-1882), who at different periods of his career was the University's Professor of Arabic and Regius Professor of Hebrew.
  • Hispanic works of literature from the 16th to the 20th centuries collected by Henry John Chaytor (1871-1954).
  • The bequests of Thomas Neale (1705), John Addenbrooke (1718), and Thomas Sherlock (1761).
  • A complete collection of early-printed works by James Shirley.

Many of our rare books are listed in the standard catalogues, such as Pollard and Redgrave, and Adams. The Smith collection of Darwinia, the Addenbrooke and Chaytor bequests, and the books described by Bilderbeck, are fully catalogued, and may be searched online, though only some of our other rare books are currently discoverable in this way. All of our incunables, and most of our sixteenth-century books, also have high-quality catalogue records in iDiscover.

St Catharine's contributes to the Cambridge University Digital Library (CUDL). Digital surrogates of a selection of our manuscripts and early printed books can be found on our CUDL pages. Links to these manuscripts, and to other digitized items in our collection, can also be found on our own Digital Library page.

Access to the College's unique and distinctive collections is by appointment only. Please contact the Librarian at least two weeks before you plan to visit. For information about how we use any personal information you provide us with to answer your enquiry, or manage your visit, please refer to the Library and Archive Data Protection Statement.